The acoustic recordings featured on this page of
and the other Philadelphia Orchestra recordings of 1920-1924 will likely sound
to our ears today as being primitive and at times perhaps like an orchestra
of banjos. However, given the physical and technical challenges of
achieving a satisfactory recording during the acoustic era, they remain
remarkable. Remember that
only 67 sides of more than 450 recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra during
the acoustic years were approved for release by Stokowski.
However, these Philadelphia Orchestra recordings demonstrate not only the
superior recording results usually achieved by Victor, but also the superiority
of the Philadelphia Orchestra of that time, as compared with other U.S. and
European orchestras of which we have surviving recordings. The Philadelphians
under Stokowski achieved a level of tonal beauty, precision, virtuosity, and
ensemble not typically matched by those other contemporary orchestras, at least
as we may judge from recordings. Consider as an example the contemporaneous
1923 recording of the great conductor Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) recording
with his usual London group, the London Symphony Orchestra. On June 1,
1923, they recorded the Beethoven Symphony no 7 on nine sides
for (British) Columbia. Of course, given the limitations of the
acoustic process, this was not the full London Symphony, but
rather a smaller number - perhaps 35 to 45 musicians grouped in front of the
recording horn. However, one would suppose these to be some of the best
of the London musicians.
Yet, listen to the excerpt from the third movement of the Beethoven symphony, and
note the poor intonation, slurred and wrong notes, and the recurring break-down of
ensemble playing. This excerpt is by no means a "worst-case"
example of the contemporary quality of playing. Amateur orchestras today,
in North America, Europe, and elsewhere routinely surpass this level.
It is easy to understand why many critics enthusiastically welcomed the
qualities of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. Click on
the link, below to listen to (download) this example from that period, and then
listen to the other Philadelphia recordings of 1922-1924 on this page.
1922 - Luigi Boccherini - Minuet from String Quintet in E Major
opus 11 no 5 (G 275)
In 1922, Stokowski recorded what may have been his first
recording of what eventually became many famous series of Stokowski
arrangements or orchestration of works not originally written for a
symphony orchestra. This was an arrangement of
the third movement of Luigi Boccherini's String Quintet
in E major, opus 11 no 5. G 275.
Of course, Stokowski's first two recordings of the Brahms Hungarian Dances
no 5 and no 6 are arrangements of works for piano four hands, but
these were established works for orchestra played by
many groups. They also do not seem to be specifically orchestrations
by Stokowski, although the instrumentation was changed to adapt to the
acoustic recording process. Also, in the case of this recording,
the minuet from the Boccherini Quintet played by a symphony orchestra or
large group was far from exclusive to Stokowski. The encyclopedia
catalog of acoustic recordings by Claude Graveley Arnold1
lists 11 acoustic recordings of this Boccherini piece prior to Stokowski.
Rather, Stokowski's many arrangements of
works by Bach, Boccherini, Chopin, etc. added new
orchestral works which Stokowski apparently liked, and
wanted to make available to his audience in performances
by his orchestra. 1922 was also the year of the
first Stokowski orchestration of a Bach organ work for
full symphony orchestra, the Passacaglia and Fugue in c
minor BWV 582 3.
This Boccherini morsel was, however recorded more than a dozen times in orchestral
arrangements by orchestras throughout the acoustic era.
This minuet from the Luigi Boccherini String Quintet opus 11 no 5
was issued on a 10 inch Victor Red Seal 66058, matrix B-25943-4,
which was labeled on the disk as:
1922 - Stokowski arrangement of the Chopin Prélude op 28 no 4 for piano
Later in 1922, Stokowski recorded another of his arrangements,
that of the Chopin Prélude opus 28 no 4 for piano, which Stokowski had decided
to orchestrate. In my view, this is one of the more successful Stokowski
orchestrations, in part because the orchestration is light, and in the case of
the acoustic recording, the primary instruments are in the acoustic
recording recording range.
This recording was coupled on Victor 1111 with the Tchaikovsky 'Song without Words'
orchestration, which was recorded in 1924.  Although the Chopin was recorded in
late 1922, and the Tchaikovsky was recorded in April, 1924, this disk was not
distributed by Victor until late in 1925, after the new electrical recording
process had been in place for some six months. For this reason, and perhaps
also because of the musical content - orchestrations of quiet, contemplative piano
works, this Victor 1111 did not sell well, and today is difficult to find.
This short work, only about 2 minutes in length, remains interesting today.
Stokowski re-recorded this Chopin orchestration in 1950 with 'His Symphony
Orchestra'. Click on the link below to listen to this interesting transcription.
Another Stokowski orchestration was the German Dance D. 783 by Franz
Schubert, which Stokowski re-titled Viennese Dance, perhaps due to
concerns about a continued anti-German sentiment which had been so strong
in the US during the First World War. (You might be interested to
read about the shocking arrest in Boston and internment of the great conductor
Karl Muck when he was conductor of the Boston Symphony during the First World
by clicking here.) Unlike the
Boccherini, and to a lesser extent the Chopin
arrangement, both performed by a number of other symphony orchestras
during the acoustic era, this Stokowski arrangement was one-of-a-kind,
not emulated by other conductor of other orchestras.
Stokowski's label for this work 'Viennese Dance' was certainly
appropriate for this performance, since the sway of the music
has a grace and Viennese lilt that remains georgeous even to this
day. This must have been a delightful recording to play on
the acoustic Victrolas of the day. Click on the link below
to listen to his memory of past playing style.
This recording made on Monday, December 4, 1922 in the Camden
Church Studio was issued in August, 1923 on Victor 12 inch Red Seal
disk 74814, matrix number C 27012-7.
1924 marked the end of the acoustic recording era for Stokowski and the
Philadelphians, with the advent of the electrical process beginning the
next year. Also in 1924, they made their first
recording of a complete symphony, the Schubert
"Unfinished". This symphony of course
was performed numerous times not only by Stokowski, but
also his predecessors. In its 1882 - 1883 season,
for example, the Germania Orchestra, a predecessor of
the Philadelphia Orchestra under William Stoll,
performed the Unfinished Symphony in May, 1883 4.
This also was by no means the first acoustic recording of a complete symphony.
Artur Nikisch and the Berlin Philharmonic recorded their famous complete (although cut)
recording of the Beethoven Symphony no 5 on eight sides in November, 1913. There
were also a number of other complete symphonic recordings in the decade prior to Stokowski's
Unfinished, including 'complete' versions of the Unfinished by Leo Blech and the Berlin
Philharmonic in 1922 and Adrian Boult (pre-knighthood days) in 1923.
However, the practice at the time by nearly all orchestras and recordings was to record
one movement of a symphony, and often heavily cut to fit on one side.
Stokowski's acoustic recordings of the heavily cut second movements of the Beethoven
Symphony no 8, or the Dvorak New World symphony, or of the third movement
of the Tchaikovsky Pathétique are typical of this.
In fact, this Stokowski 1924 recording of the complete Unfinished Symphony was the first
Victor recording of any complete symphony. It was recorded April 18 and 19, 1924,
although C. G. Arnold's superb discography (see
Leopold Stokowski Philadelphia Orchestra Bibliography, Sources and Credits
) indicates that one side was recorded in August, 1924. Since there were not other
Philadelphia Orchestra recording sessions in August, 1924, this may open to
question. (Stokowski and the Philadelphians had previously had a go at recording the
Unfinished in sessions in December 1923 and January 1924, which were
not approved by Stokowski.)
This recording suffers from many of
the usual acoustic rearrangements, with what sounds like
a bassoon replacing the tympani, and again, reduced
forces - only 44 musicians were used in this recording.
Also, basses, as before were considered not to reproduce
well in this recording process. In fact, according to the
ledgers, no string basses at all were used in this recording. Instead,
bass clarinets and tubas took the parts of the string
basses, as can be heard in modern reproduction.
Also, although this is a good performance that would satisfy many listeners of
that time, the performance (it seems to me) lacks that ultimate transforming passion of
some of the best of the hundreds of later recordings of the Unfinished. In
my opinion, this may reflects Stokowski's only partial sympathy with the classical period of
the first thirty years of the nineteenth century, when the symphonies of Beethoven
and Schubert transformed the era of Haydn and Mozart. In fact, the Unfinished was the
only Schubert symphony that Stokowski ever recorded commercially, although
Stokowski did perform the Schubert Symphony no 9 "Great"
symphony fairly frequently at Philadelphia concerts.
Still, this is a good performance, and significantly better than the
other two acoustic 'Unfinished' Symphonies I have heard
(of Sir Henry Wood and Leo Blech).
The 1924 Schubert Unfinished was issued on three double faced 12 inch Victor Red Seal disks,
Victor 6459 - 6461, matrix numbers C-29052-5, C-29053-5, C-29054-5, C-29055-4, C-29056-5, and
One advantage is that the
Stokowski 1924 recording of the Schubert Unfinished was
on 6 sides, and is complete, as far as I can determine.
Most acoustic recordings of the Unfinished were on four
sides (not to mention the frightening prospect of the
several two sided issues).
effect of these required cuts on the symphony, when
recorded on four sides, can be
witnessed in listening to the following comparison,
which occurs some two and one half minutes into the
is the 1923 recording by Sir Henry Wood and the New
Queen's Hall Orchestra on English Columbia. This
recording replaced the identically numbered 1919 Wood
recording on L1360 and L1361, but with new matrix
numbers 76518-3, 76519-4, 76520-4, 76521-4.
Sir Henry Wood in about 1914
This excerpt from the Sir Henry Wood recording is from a restoration is by Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio
using his brilliant new technique "Natural Sound". Andrew Rose's sound for the Wood performance
is far superior to the Stokowski transcription.
In the excerpt below, the Stokowski 1924 recording, follows the Wood, beginning at
the same point about two and one half minutes into the
symphony. I believe you will quickly notice the impact
of what is included in the Stokowski 1924 recording, and
missing from Sir Henry Wood's 1923 recording. Cut from
the Wood version is the minor key build up of the theme
rising to the yearning recapitulation of the initial
theme of the symphony.
On the other hand, I hear
horns in the Wood recording, and more strings.
Stokowski's recording, with 44 musicians (with no horns) used no bass
strings, but substituted a bass clarinet and a tuba.
Speaking of a bass clarinet,
in the Stokowski Fans Yahoo group, I read an account by
Lawrence Matheson, the Stokowski fan and
expert, recounting a conversation he had with Janet
Frank who had been a cellist with Stokowski's American
Symphony Orchestra. She said that Stokowski had added a
bass clarinet to the orchestra for the Schubert
Unfinished, when performed by the American Symphony
Orchestra in the 1960s. Perhaps this was inspired by his
experience with these acoustic
spite of the better sound of the Wood transfer, to my
ears, the Stokowski performance is far more vital,
engaged, and inspired. Judge for yourself, by clicking
the link below.
Second - in the Chronological Discography page.
For example, links to a 1926 recording are also found in the
electrical recordings chronological discography page:
Chronological Discography of Electrical Recordings
This page lists all the electrical recordings from 1925 to
1940 made by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold
Stokowski and issued by Victor, including of course the 1926 recordings.
The mp3 files in this site are encoded at 128 mbps. This means that the
files are of different sizes, according to the length of
the music. For example, the second electrical recording, the
April 29, 1925 Borodin ‘Polovetzki Dances’ is small (3.6MB). In contrast,
the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large. Le Sacre part 1 is 14MB
and Le Sacre part 2 is 16MB.
This means that a large file will take a longer time to
download, depending on your internet connection speed.
Please keep this in mind when you click to listen to -
download a particularly music file. You may click
the link to the music file, but need to wait a number of
seconds or even minutes to listen to the file.
If you have any comments or questions about this
Leopold Stokowski site, please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail
1 Arnold, Claude Graveley, C.S.B. The Orchestra on Record,
1896 - 1926, An Encyclopedia of Orchestral Recordings Made by the
Acoustical Process. Discographies, Number 73,
Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut. 1997. ISBN 0-313-30099-2.